The Smashing Pumpkins chat nostalgia, musical chemistry and the creation of Cyr

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The Smashing Pumpkins chat nostalgia, musical chemistry and the creation of Cyr

Words by August Billy

The band's eleventh album is out now.

The Smashing Pumpkins are back with their eleventh studio LP, Cyr – a 20-song double album that indicates the titanic ambition of band leader William Patrick Corgan hasn’t dwindled with age.

Cyr isn’t even the most elaborate project that Corgan and co. have in the pipeline. They’re currently working on a 33-song sequel to 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and 2000’s Machina. Cyr itself is volume two in a trilogy that began with 2018’s Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1: No Past. No Future. No Sun. Weeks prior to the release of Cyr, Corgan indicated that Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 3 was already three-quarters of the way finished. 

Double or indeed triple albums have always been extravagant undertakings, but they feel especially out of vogue in the current moment given the prevailing fixation with soundbites and mass-piecemeal consumption. But multi-disc concept albums continue to appeal to Corgan, who regards streaming as a highly compatible medium for their ingestion.

“We’ve all made that mistake where we hear the first single off a band’s album that we like, we think, ‘Oh, I’m not really into it,’ we don’t listen to the album and then five years later somebody lends us the record on CD and we listen to it and go, ‘Oh shit. That actually was a good record,’” he says.

“I wanted to take the Pumpkins out of the loop of being judged on one song when our best work in many cases has been not the singles. I want the fans to be able to decide whether or not the work is valuable, not a radio station or a critic.”

It might seem odd for Corgan to complain about his work not generating sufficient attention. From 1993’s Siamese Dream through to 1998’s Adore, The Smashing Pumpkins were unstoppable. They released three consecutive ARIA Platinum albums in this period while Mellon Collie sold more than five million copies in America alone. 

But the band’s imperial phase petered out with the release of Machina/The Machines of God

in 2000, which arrived soon after the departure of founding bass player D’arcy Wretzky. The Pumpkins broke up later that year and despite Corgan reviving the name in 2006, the general perception remains that the band’s heyday ended in 2000. 

But Cyr is The Smashing Pumpkins’ fifth new album since 2006 and Corgan scoffs at the idea he reached his creative zenith sometime in the late 1990s.

“I do think it’s very difficult for people to wrap their head around the idea that a band can be as prolific as we were, break up, go through various line-ups – including a line-up where I was the only original member – and that those variations can produce high quality music, not only through different line-ups but come back together, three-quarters of the original band, and continue to produce high quality music,” he says. “People can’t wrap their head around that story because it’s not a story that they know.”

The original line-up of Corgan, Wretzky, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and guitarist James Iha has never properly reunited, but Chamberlin and Iha have been back in the fold since 2018. Despite this, anyone expecting Cyr to be filled with guitar-drenched alt-rock numbers à la ‘Cherub Rock’ or ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ will be sorely disappointed.

“If there were a bunch of songs on the radio right now like ‘Cherub Rock’, I don’t think I’d have a problem doing ‘Cherub Rock 2’,” Corgan says. “But I’ve got a better chance of getting on the radio sounding like Tame Impala than I do ‘Cherub Rock’.”

Cyr features plenty of synthesisers and electronics, which won’t be a surprise to those who’ve kept up with Corgan’s output over the last 20-odd years. The record’s sonic identity is further defined by vocal harmonies, ethereal counter melodies and gleaming studio production. 

“All I said in the beginning is, ‘I just want to make modern music.’ I don’t want anyone around me to expect me to make old music and I don’t want to make old music,” Corgan says. “I don’t set out to try to sound like Tame Impala, but I can appreciate the space in the music, the harmonies in the music, the vibe in the music in the same way that when I was 20 and listening to Wax Trax! bands or something.”

Rick Rubin produced No Past. No Future. No Sun., but Corgan decided to produce Cyr himself. He was eager to tap into the zeitgeist, but his production references weren’t limited to artists of the moment. 

“The main kind of meta-take on Cyr was, if a lot of people in modern music are working with space, what in my background connects me to that idea?” he says. “And for me it was early ‘80s bands like Sisters of Mercy and Siouxsie and the Banshees and stuff like that. 

“I remember hearing the music at the time and the way that it made me feel and I was able to emotionally connect with that feeling and understand why young people are attracted to space now and how tones and certain textures are attractive to people.”

Corgan is and has always been the undisputed captain of S.S. Smashing Pumpkins, but the input of Chamberlin and Iha was significant in bringing Cyr to life. 

“They give their general opinion to what’s happening and then they contribute whatever they think is important to contribute,” Corgan says. “James will send me everything from synth parts to rhythms to guitar ideas. He has no bounds on his creativity. 

“Jimmy loves to talk about song structure and the vocal and the lyrics and so he’ll give me his feedback on what I’m doing on that level. So their contribution is greater than whether or not they’re playing guitar or drums on a song.”

Nostalgia can cause music fans to assume that a certain magic will be summoned whenever a particular combination of individuals get together, even if there are countless examples to the contrary. But Corgan is positive that a unique chemistry remains between himself, Chamberlin and Iha. 

“I think we’re better together. I built the musical machine of The Smashing Pumpkins around the personalities, so it’s been harder to maintain that musical machine without them. Their skill-set is perfect for the machine that we built together.”

Cyr, the new album from The Smashing Pumpkins, is out now.